My Usual Table: A Life in Restaurants


My Usual Table is a love letter to the great restaurants that have changed the way we eat— from Trader Vic’s to Chez Panisse and Spago to elBulli—and a vivid memoir of a life lived in food, from a founding editor of Saveur and James Beard Award winning writer Colman Andrews.

For reviewer, writer, and editor Colman Andrews, restaurants have been his playground, his theater, his university, his church, his refuge. The establishments he has loved have not only influenced culinary ...

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My Usual Table: A Life in Restaurants

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My Usual Table is a love letter to the great restaurants that have changed the way we eat— from Trader Vic’s to Chez Panisse and Spago to elBulli—and a vivid memoir of a life lived in food, from a founding editor of Saveur and James Beard Award winning writer Colman Andrews.

For reviewer, writer, and editor Colman Andrews, restaurants have been his playground, his theater, his university, his church, his refuge. The establishments he has loved have not only influenced culinary trends at home and abroad, but represent the changing history and culture of food in America and Western Europe. From his usual table, he has watched the growth of Nouvelle Cuisine and fusion cuisine; the organic and locavore movements; nose-to-tail eating; and so-called “molecular gastronomy.”

In My Usual Table, Andrews interweaves his own story—from growing up in the sunset years of Hollywood’s golden age to traveling the world in pursuit of great food—with tales of the restaurants, chefs, and restaurateurs who are emblematic of the revolutions great and small that have forever changed the way we eat, cook, and think about food.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 02/24/2014
A fond salute to many of his favorite culinary haunts marks this charming autobiographical omnibus by accomplished cookbook author, longtime reviewer, and cofounder of Saveur, Andrews (The Taste of America; The Country Cooking of Italy). In his lively, frank prose, Andrews unfurls a lifetime of intuitive restaurant searching, from being introduced to the West Hollywood “hobo” chic of Chasen’s by his parents when he was growing up in L.A. in the late 1940s and ’50s—where he first got the idea that a table in a restaurant could “belong” to somebody—to his New York City power “canteen” next to his Saveur office, Eleven Madison Park, to various far-flung legendary spots in Rome (Piccolo Mondo), Paris (Aux Amis du Beaujolais), even Nenagh, Ireland (Country Choice). Over the decades these establishments imparted to the evolving critic and cook a sense of the exotic occasion (the original Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s), as well introduction to the exciting new flavors of Mexican food, banned in his childhood home (El Coyote Café in L.A.), or where the then-long-haired “hippie” author first discovered he loved herring and other grown-up tastes (Scandia, in West Hollywood). At Café Swiss in Beverly Hills he learned to get serious about wines, and as a fledgling freelance critic in the 1970s and ’80s ventured overseas for rapturous epiphanies in Venice or Barcelona, among other locales. Andrews is warmly generous to former colleagues like Ruth Reichl and Saveur cofounders Dorothy Kalins and Christopher Hirsheimer, as they all began to make their culinary and journalist mark. Since many of these restaurants have vanished in the fumes of time, Andrews offers no less than a veritable historical trove. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A stroll down Memory Lane, with stops at the eateries that have shaped him, from food writer Andrews (The Taste of America, 2013, etc.). The author has been a fixture on the food-and-drink scene for four decades, as a restaurant critic, journalist, co-founder of Saveur and author of a number of cookbooks. This memoir gets off to a fun start, with the author recalling his early silver-spoon years in Los Angeles, which were inauspicious for someone who would become a serious trencherman ("Franco-American spaghetti with meatballs, and Chef Boyardee beef ravioli….We also had a lot of Spam")—except for the fact that they ate out often. There is a sweet and promising chapter on Chasen's, the Los Angeles restaurant where Andrews was introduced to mid-20th-century upscale American cooking, followed by warm salutes to a number of friends and food places: the Ranch House, El Coyote ("Someone once described the place as a Chuck E. Cheese for adults") and the Adriatic. But as his stature in the food world rises, so does the sense of entitlement in his writing. The fun is replaced by waves of turgidity ("the challenge of reconciling sensual pleasure with political belief") and celebrity worship ("there were certainly no other restaurants where you could eat food of Spago's quality in your T-shirt and jeans—especially not with Sean Connery at the next table and Dolly Parton over by the window and Jodie Foster coming through the front door"). For someone so secretive about his romances at work ("we had become a couple, though we made sure that nobody at the office knew")—when he got married to another officemate, they kept that mum, too—Andrews is awfully loud about it here. Unfortunately, things just get creakier and more self-pitying by the page. "My problem, of course, was that I was a decade or so ahead of the times." That's not the only one.
“In the hands of a less adept writer, Andrews’ narratives of movie stars cavorting in their favorite restaurant haunts or dining at his parents’ house might seem mere name-dropping, but his respect and affection for these celebrities make for enjoyable storytelling.”
Los Angeles Times
“Andrews gets [it] exactly right…. It’s this ability to appreciate food in a larger context that makes Andrews’ book so appealing - and such a welcome antidote to so much of the food discussion today.”
Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Andrews writes delightfully about his earliest experiences dining out in Los Angeles at Chasen’s.”
San Francisco Weekly
“The book is a fun read and covers hot spots such as El Bulli, Trader Vic’s and Chasen’s that are now shuttered but not forgotten.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Andrews is a compelling writer, and so his descriptions of restaurants past will lead readers who chronicle their own days in Instagrammed meals on an adventure in armchair time travel.”
LA Weekly
“Andrews’ eloquent food writing might as well be its own romance language.. the relationship Andrews has with restaurants and the comfort and thrill he experiences each time he sits down at the table - akin to an actor taking the stage - will make you want to join him.” -LA Weekly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062136473
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/18/2014
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 482,093
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Colman Andrews was a cofounder of Saveur, and its editor-in-chief from 2002 to 2006, and later became the restaurant columnist for Gourmet. A native of Los Angeles with degrees in history and philosophy from UCLA, he was a restaurant reviewer and restaurant news columnist for the Los Angeles Times. The recipient of eight James Beard Awards, Andrews is the coauthor and coeditor of three Saveur cookbooks and seven of his own books on food. Andrews is the editorial director of The Daily Meal, a food and wine mega-site ( that logs approximately ten million monthly unique visitors.

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